We all have our limits, and yet we are sent many messages in our society that encourage us to keep going at all costs. When I was younger I had a job in a small company that was essentially a dysfunctional family. In fact, it was owned by two married couples. Those of us who were managers were held not just accountable, but blamed for everything that happened in our departments – even on the off shifts of a twenty-four hour a day, seven-day a week operation. We were required to sneak in and spy on our employees, looking first through the windows and then entering the facility unannounced.
Beyond that, in an industry that was highly regulated by the State the rules were not only bent, they were regularly circumvented and broken, all under the guise of “programming.” Managers were placed in moral dilemmas – did we report our employer as the law required but at the cost of our job, or turn a blind eye and remain employed? To make matters worse, there were other staff members spying and eavesdropping on the managers when they met to discuss these issues. As you might imagine, the stress was tremendous.
The same kind of situation can exist in romantic and other relationships. When I was single I dated a woman for a few years who had been severely abused as a child. Her father was the high priest of a satanic cult in a rural area of a Midwestern State, and she had been ritually abused by her father and other members of the cult. This all started to surface as we started dating, and she decompensated over time. She was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons repeatedly, finally ending up in the hospital refusing to eat. I knew there was no future in this relationship, but how callous would it be to leave someone in such dire condition? Finally, on a day I went to visit her in the psych ward and found her drinking ensure, a high calorie beverage we gave to residents in the nursing home where I was working, things came to a head. On my way out, I ran into our female assistant pastor at church. She asked me how I was, and I said I was really struggling. Then she said something that finally got through to me, “it’s hard to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be alive.” Someone had finally gotten through me that it was permissible to have limits, to take care of myself and allow others to be responsible for themselves, no matter how dire their circumstances appear to be. In my case, I saw that I was being manipulated and that in remaining in the relationship I was doing damage to myself. I ended the relationship.
No matter the situation or the circumstance, we all have our limits. No matter the details, we need to be honest with ourselves about our situation. There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves. In fact, if we don’t take care of ourselves nobody is going to do so for us. There is no career advancement, no social standing, no relationship that is worth serious negative impacts to our health, whether emotional or physical – or both. When an individual or an organization asks us to become martyrs, we can be sure they don’t have our best interest at heart – and there is a good chance they aren’t the healthiest game in town, either.
We are all bearers of divinity. As such, we have an inherent dignity and value. We need to recognize that truth, and live into it.